Prohibition 100th Anniversary: Facts and Timeline of America's Ban on Alcohol

Happy hour has become something of a workday rite for many adults who, after leaving their job, head over to their favorite bars and pubs to indulge in the drink specials.

As common as happy hours and America's drinking culture have become, it's hard to imagine a time when adults were unable to unwind with a beer or gin and tonic after a long day. But such a dry era, when people were prohibited from manufacturing, selling and transporting alcohol in America, did exist.

In fact, Monday marks the 100th anniversary of the enactment of the Volstead Act, the law authored by U.S. Representative Andrew Volstead of Minnesota, which essentially enforced the 18th Amendment and America's prohibition on the production, transport and sale of alcohol.

While the 18th Amendment didn't specifically prohibit Americans from drinking alcohol, it made access to spirits increasingly complicated for most people. Of course, it didn't stop folks from going to extremes to get their hands on booze. If anything, Prohibition only ushered in opportunities for more bootleggers to use backdoor tactics to get their products to customers. The era brought the creation of speakeasies—illegal underground drinking establishments—and enhanced the reputations of some of the most notorious gangsters and mobsters in the U.S., like Al Capone.

Read on for a few more facts about Prohibition before it was officially repealed.

Prohibition 100th Anniversary: Facts and Timeline of U.S. Ban on Alcohol
The National Liberal Alliance gathers petitions to modify the Volstead Act. The National Prohibition Act, known as the Volstead Act, began enforcement of the 18th Amendment on October 28, 1919. Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images


Long before Congress voted for Prohibition, the rhetoric surrounding the evils of alcohol had become common among Protestant and Presbyterian leaders, including the Reverend Lyman Beecher. The Connecticut native's famous "Sermon 1: "Nature and Occasions of Intemperance" was considered one of the first pieces of rhetoric to ignite the crusade for Prohibition.


Portland Mayor Neal Dow obtained thousands of signatures from Maine residents supporting the state's abolishment of the manufacture and sale of alcohol. Maine became the first state to pass such a law, although it was later repealed in 1856.


Just two years after the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League were founded, the Prohibition Party—the first and oldest existing third-party political group—was established by Rick Knox. A number of radical groups and figures rose within it, like the controversial Carry Nation, who spent nearly 10 years traveling the country with her Bible and a hatchet, which she used to smash barrels of alcohol and beer at local saloons.


The 18th Amendment was initially passed by Congress on December 18, 1917, but wasn't ratified until January 16, 1919. President Woodrow Wilson vetoed the Volstead Act—the law enforcing the amendment—mostly because it included enforcement of the Wartime Prohibition Act, which took effect in 1919, a year after World War I ended. The Senate voted 57-20 override Wilson's veto, thus officially enforcing the prohibition of alcohol's sale, manufacturing and transportation in the U.S. on October 28, 1919.


Headlines splattered across newspapers around the country warned of the rise of gang and gun violence spawned by the illegal trafficking of alcohol overseen by mob bosses like New York's Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Chicago's Johnny Torrio and his protégé Al Capone. One of the most infamous shootings of the year, believed to have been ordered by Capone, was the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, during which Capone's followers dressed up as police officers and shot to death seven members of a rival gang.


Following years of turmoil and citizens' increasingly unpopular view of Prohibition, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced its repeal December 5, 1933, lifting the ban on the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol in the U.S. This marked the first time in American history a constitutional amendment was repealed.